A definitive guide to storing refrigerated food
Are you often confused about how you should store various food products? Is it okay to leave opened ketchup in the pantry? Do you store olive oil in the refrigerator? What about hot sauce? Everyone is allowed to have their own personal preferences inside their home kitchens, but this doesn’t always mean their decisions are safe.
You need to store food in a safe area. Certain foods need to be kept at room temperature, while others need to be refrigerated. Just in case you need to be reminded, we’ll walk through the necessary steps to make sure you’re storing food in the correct areas of your kitchen.
Storing those condiments
You have probably been told that you need to store wet ingredients, including ketchup, mustard, and jam, in a refrigerator. This is a rumor; you don’t actually have to refrigerate foods with acidity, sugar, or salt. Director of graduate food studies at New York University Jennifer Berg explains that the large amounts of salt and sugar in most condiments keep them preserved, even after you open the bottles or jars. While mustard might taste better if it’s stored in the refrigerator, there’s no rule that says you have to refrigerate the condiment.
Instead, it’s safe to store these food items at room temperature. This includes Sriracha, hoisin or barbecue sauce. The sauces are made of enough vinegar and sugar for them to be preserved without refrigeration.
There’s one small exception, however. Berg advises you to check the ingredients listed on the bottles before storing. If you purchased a reduced-sugar or low-salt version of the food products, you need to refrigerate the condiments because they contain less than the normal amount of preservatives. Once opened, they might not last as long as other condiments.
Mayonnaise goes in the fridge
There is no exception with mayonnaise. It always belongs in the refrigerator. The wet condiment is made mainly of eggs and oil; therefore, it doesn’t contain a large amount of sugar, salt, and vinegar that helps other condiments last longer out of the refrigerator. If you left a jar of mayonnaise in the pantry for too long, you would have a mess and an unfortunate odor.
Berg adds, “I would always refrigerate mayonnaise once opened.” If you left the condiment out in the open, unsealed, the taste would suffer. No one would want that to happen, right? Mayonnaise is too important to waste.
What about butter?
Butter is complicated because you can safely leave butter at room temperature, but not for a long period of time. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), storing butter is basically up to your preference. You can store it in the refrigerator or leave it at room temperature, but not longer than one or two days.
The FDA has new guidelines, detailing that butter is composed of 80-percent fat. This percentage makes the dairy product less susceptible to bacteria than products with high water content. In addition, many different types of butter are made of pasteurized milk, which is even less prone to bacterial growth than other dairy products. If you choose to leave butter out of the refrigerator, store it in an airtight container, like a crock.
Other dairy products, including milk, cheese, cream cheese, etc., are to be refrigerated once opening to lower the risk of spoiling. Bacteria would cling to the high-water content and you would waste perfectly good fresh milk. A cow works too hard to provide that milk for you to waste.
Salad dressings are okay in the pantry
As you re-organize your refrigerator and pantry, you might be wondering what to do with your salad dressings. Are they supposed to be refrigerated? Or, is it okay to leave them out in the pantry? Here’s a tip: look at the ingredients. If there’s no dairy, eggs, or fresh vegetables (including herbs), you don’t need to refrigerate the salad dressing. They’re fine left alone at room temperature.
Vinegar- and sugar-heavy dressings, like Italian or balsamic, are okay to store in a pantry. However, if you love Caesar or ranch dressing, those contain dairy, eggs, and fresh vegetables. It’s best to keep those in the refrigerator. Follow the ingredients; they’ll tell you what to do.
You can store herbs in the refrigerator, except basil. But there are special restrictions for the different types of herbs. For hard herbs (with “woody” stems, including rosemary, oregano, marjoram, and thyme), you need to wrap them in a damp paper towel and plastic wrap before storing in the refrigerator.
For soft herbs (with soft, tender stems, including parsley, cilantro, and tarragon), snip the bases of the stems and cover the herbs with a plastic bag before refrigerating. Basil should be stored at room temperature. If you refrigerate the herb, the leaves will turn black, and no one wants that to happen.
Last minute tips
There are specific instructions for every food product. Bananas can be left alone at room temperature for at least five days before ripening. Apples can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Blackberries can last up to two days in the refrigerator. Grapefruit can be stored at room temperature for one week.
You can store lettuce in the refrigerator, but you should always follow the expiration date on the package. It doesn’t matter how fresh the leaves look. Bacteria can still spread in the matter of one day after the expiration date.
Finally, never refrigerate olive oil or honey. Refrigerating honey causes the sweet ingredient to crystallize and dry out. Olive oil will solidify and lose its distinct flavor. Instead, store the ingredients in a cool, dark area of your pantry to protect them from heat or light.